Jordan Peele has amassed quite the name for himself in Hollywood over the past 5 years as being a horror mastermind. But with that legacy comes expectations, and a unfair promise to deliver with audiences consistently searching for something big and grand. That’s exactly the balance and message Peele tries to deliver with his latest film Nope, a film that explores our fascination with spectacle and our constant need to monetize every experience, even at the expense of our own self worth. The pacing is rather slow at times, but the end result does leave room for discussion in the years to come.
Two siblings, OJ and Emerald Hayward, running a horse ranch in California discover something wonderful and sinister in the skies above. Desiring to capture the object in the skies on video, they go to great lengths to document this encounter and be remembered as one of the greats.
Spectacle is what is at the center of Peele’s latest film, or perhaps America’s fascination with entertainment and how we monetize it. Each of the characters in the film is motivated intrinsically by this American dream, and provides well rounded arcs for each member of the film. OJ and Emerald come from a family line where their great grandfather was forgotten for being part of the first motion picture, and so their desire to be established in cinema history feels real and palpable. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer plays these two central characters fantastically with Kaluuya providing a sullen and traumatized man who witnessed his fathers death while Palmer portrays a free spirited individual seeking to make profits. It’s a brilliant dichotomy in how they approach the central conflict.
The “object” in the film which has been referred to as a UFO in interviews and in marketing, is the centerpiece of the film both in literal and metaphorical spectacle. Watching Jordan Peele direct his nighttime sequences provide some great tension in certain areas especially as you ask the same questions as the characters. From a more symbolic standpoint it symbolizes the obsession we as humans have. Take Steven Yeun’s Jupe, for example, whose fascination with the UFO is driven by a desire to make him feel special. After experiencing a traumatic event in his childhood that has been heavily monetized, and converted to SNL parody, he believes he was chosen for a reason and that this is his moment to shine. Other characters want it for the money, and others want for the glory, that array of motivation makes for some compelling character work even when the UFO is being chased down.
While the pacing in the movie is fairly slow in the first half, its ultimately the point that Peele is driving to make. We have become obsessed with seeing blood action, violent conversations, and intense imagery when it comes to horror films, but no one wants to talk about the small achievements or “miracles” that takes place there. Choosing to focus on characters and subtlety makes the large spectacle in the third act feel a little more earned. His commentary on this phenomenon may go overlooked by many when first watching the film but its definitely there, just not as overt as Get Out.
The technicality of this film is something to be marveled at especially as we head into the third act. The scale and feat that Jordan Peele pulls off shows that he is capable of more big budget films the likes of Spielberg in his early craft. It’s also a love letter to film crew with terminology and roles being played up to shout out the little guys on the side. Technically, Nope is something to behold.
While the pacing does feel off, Nope also doesn’t have the consistent thrills and scares of Peele’s previous two films making this one feel a tad “alien” to its audiences. Peele has opted for a more pointed message that calls out the audience for desiring the thing that Peele is trying to make a point against. It’s a bold move, and one that will divide audiences based on expectations. I chose to roll with it and the more that I sit and chew on it, the deeper I see his communication come out.
Nope is a bold film from Peele, both in a technical level and a metaphorical one. While the technical level is achieved to great satisfaction, the metaphorical one will be divisive which is precisely the point that Peele wants to drive home. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me he is currently 3/3 for his movies and I can’t wait to see what he produces next.